New Year Resolution: Learn How to Subscribe to RSS Feeds

RSS Feed IconIn the blogging world, we all subscribe and read feeds regularly. So, if that isn’t you, and you don’t “get it” or think it is some technical trick, I encourage you to pay attention for a minute.

The Old Way

If you don’t use a feedreader, you are missing out. You are forced to do one of two things to stay on top of things: subscribe to things via email, or remember to visit certain web pages with regularity. Both have intrinsic problems.

Email interrupts your day. Email should be reserved for business-like items, friendly quick exchanges, and the like. It should not be for news and updates. Not anymore.

Remembering to visit certain web pages leads to two distinct behaviors. The first is simply forgetting. When you forget to visit your friend’s blog, or a certain job site, or a specific search query you need to stay on top of for work… you are simply losing out. The information you needed, while possibly there, is of no value to you because you don’t have it.

The second behavior is visiting those websites consistently. There are tools to help you do this, but the bottom line is that you are visiting sites that, quite often, have not been updated, and thus, wasting time.

A New Way

What if you could be alerted, when you have the free time, to new content on your favorite web pages? What if you could find out every time someone posts a new job in your chosen career field? What if you could read about all the latest news that has only to do with your congressman? And what if, you could do this only when you have time, and never be interrupted in the meanwhile.

That’s the power of RSS feeds. And while blogs are their primary stomping grounds, you’ll find them everywhere once you start looking. Each day, thousands of sites are converting to engines that enable them to offer feeds. And not just feeds of the entire site, but of specific sections, categories, and subjects.

Pick a Feed Reader

To read this stuff, you’ll need a feed reader. Personally, I recommend Google Reader (read why),. Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune likes Bloglines instead and tells you how to use it.

Most modern web browsers have a feed reader built-in. If you use Firefox 2+ or Internet Explorer 7+, Safari 3 (now available for PC’s too), or Opera, you are all set. Want to learn more about RSS feeds in your browser? Here’s a bit about Internet Explorer’s RSS reader, Safari’s RSS reader, or Firefox’s Live Bookmarks.

Want to see what some other folks say about different readers and what they like or don’t like? Check out the Best RSS Reader Contest here.

RSS is here to Stay

Some people might remember the “push” technology that Microsoft and others were supporting back in the early days of the internet. It lasted about three years and never really took off. If you’ve been hesitating on trying out a feed reader because of that bad memory, I encourage you to erase it from your mind and move forward. RSS is here to stay. Every major website has it. Don’t believe me? Check out the Top 100 Most-Subscribed-To RSS Feeds or Million RSS (which is a searchable database of thousands of feeds).

Feed Reading for Electrical Engineers

Let’s pretend you are an electrical engineer and you want to stay informed better. Since I have a number of EE friends, let’s see what’s available for them.

First, you probably want to keep up on the latest news. Try using Technorati, which compiles posts from millions of blogs, and just subscribing to a broad search term like “electrical engineering”. See an example here. Not every post might be on the money, but you can use this for a while to find other blogs and websites which focus more on your areas of interest and then subscribe to those directly. Now, they’ll just populate your feed reader and you can browse through them quickly at your leisure, reading only the articles that interest you.

If you were searching for a new job, or just wanting to monitor how the job market is going, you could subscribe to Jobster’s EE feed. If that is too broad, you could narrow it down to a specific region, like Florida, or even only Melbourne. Alternatively, you could do the same with Craigslist. Here’s a Craigslist feed for Electrical Engineering jobs in Miami.

Speaking of Craigslist, it is one of the best RSS-enabled websites out there. Learn more about Craigslist and RSS feeds here and here.

Did you know you can subscribe to any Google search term as a separate RSS feed? If you use Google’s Blog Search (rather than the regular web search), you’ll see a link at the bottom of your first page of search results that tells you can subscribe to that search result as a feed. Just keep rephrasing your search terms until you get a list of blogs and blog posts that seem to accurately cover your subject of interest. Then, simply subscribe to that feed. Easy.

The Bottom Line 

It takes only minutes to setup your feed reader of choice and subscribe to a few feeds. After a short while, you’ll start to see how valuable it is and why reading blogs can make you smart. You’ll start canceling those annoying email alerts and go RSS with everything. You’ll wonder how you lived without it. Life will be better, the sky will be clearer, the stress will drain from your body, and you’ll begin to see the new age of communication. There’s much more you can do with RSS than I’ve let on here, because I just want to encourage you to get started today.

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Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader. If you don't have a feed reader, I recommend using Google Reader to start. It's free and easy. Otherwise, you can always have these articles delivered to your email inbox every day. Click here to sign up.

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